The president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, recently visited Lithuania and stated that there will be no normalization of the relations between the EU and Belarus without the release and rehabilitation of the political prisoners.
In an exclusive interview to the «Lietuvos rytas» newspaper he congratulated Vilnius on its responsible mission – the start of the chairmanship in the Council of the European Union and told about Brussels’ policy towards community’s Eastern neighbours.
– In a particularly heated battle for a new EU budget took part the most important European organizations – the Council of Europe, European Parliament, initially blocking the budget, and the European Commission. Many evaluate it as a symptom of fragmentation or even disintegration of the EU. Others say that it is normal democratic process, only intra-enhancing European integration. What is your opinion?
– I think that the agreement on the 2014-2020 budget is an important indicator that the EU bodies, including the Member States belonging to the Council, are able to work together and agree on the budget, which task is to help the European Union overcome the crisis. All countries – the EU budget payers and beneficiaries gathered and come to a common, sustainable compromise.
The European Commission sought to reach an agreement between the Member States, in terms of reality and functionality of future budget. This budget is essential to us. It is essential for the EU authorities, the citizens of the Union, Member States, especially those who today are in a particularly difficult situation.
All Member States need budget-funded programs that can be implemented from January 2014. I think it is possible.
– EU leaders have long declared that the threat of collapse of the Euro has passed, and that substantially the economic crisis was gone and the European economy rise from its knees stronger and more integrated. Where does this optimism come from?
– The fact that the euro is safe, I realized in the end of last year. The current situation cannot be compared to that of a few years before.
As an example, take public debts: in a little more than a year, Greece was provided with about three quarters cheaper loans for a period of 10 years, and Portugal – more than half cheaper.
It means that the confidence in the financial markets is slowly returning. This does not mean the end of the crisis. We have a huge youth unemployment to be addressed, we need to encourage banks to resume investments in the economy and, of course, we must improve the competitiveness of our economy.
Of course the EU area is large, and we have taken great efforts to reduce the budget deficit and the European Bank applied specific measures. However, we should use our inconsiderable European space to reformed our economy. These are the plans of the European Commission towards certain countries. We believe that this is the cornerstone of economic growth and creation of greater number of jobs.
– The EU believes that the most important solution to all problems is to stimulate integration. Many fear, however, that this will highlight even more chasms between developed countries and the less developed countries within the European Union, which also reveal uneven political influence of major players on the continent (such as Germany), and the minor, especially those from to the east. On the other hand there is an opinion according to which deepening of the integration will strengthen the importance, role and impact of the European bureaucracy. What is your view?
– The crisis has spread across the European Union, in particular in countries with a common currency. The crisis has highlighted the strong interdependence of the economies of each country.
Therefore, in order to curb similar types of crisises and prevent them in the future, we have taken a number of steps, including established the principle of budgetary and economic control (called a set of six legal acts) and general control mechanism of the banks.
A more integrated EU with reinforced organizational structures will promote unity, not fragmentation of Europe. In the sixties of the twentieth century it became clear that European integration is the best weapon against dispersal of Europeans.
All the EU Member States have exactly the same rights and duties. I do not like artificial separation of European countries for the rich and the poor, the old and the new, central and peripheral. Especially today, after a period of severe economic and financial crisis it is high time to join forces in order to maintain the common European project – a common Europe.
– Does such countries like Lithuania, not necessarily powerful, economically and politically, are likely to affect the solution of fundamental problems of the continent? Perhaps many in Lithuania overestimates the role of the EU presidency, hoping that Lithuania is able to propel the continent to work on most of critical problems? On the other hand, many people see leadership as a chance to get more of the European funds, or expand their political influence. Is this view correct?
– Any state – big or small, rich or poorer, with the leadership of the Union takes on a great commitment and responsibility, also in terms of transparency of political activity.
The EU entry in a new phase of deeper integration is also a time of major economic problems.
In order to prepare Lithuania to Presidency of the EU I maintained the constant relations with the structures of the authorities of that country. I am sure that Lithuania will properly set priorities and wisely manage resources.
Lithuania will chair the Council of the EU for the first time. In addition, as the first it will chair the European Union which consists of as many as 28 countries. A special time requires a specific approach to management. However, I am convinced that Lithuania will be able to responsibly meet the challenges ahead.
– Are we to expect changes in the near future in the process of implementation of the Eastern Partnership program?
– Meeting at the highest level and concerning Eastern Partnership, is planned for November in Vilnius and is a very important initiative. The European Commission hopes to sign an agreement with Ukraine and the signing of the preliminary contract agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. The signing of these agreements is the essence of transformation of the Eastern Partnership. To these initiatives could be implemented is needed absolute willingness to implement reforms promised by our partners. This is the most important condition for preparing, signing and ratification of these agreements.
– What do you thinks are the chances of the Ukraine to become the EU member, if any, of course?
– The goals of reaching political association and economic integration link us with the Ukraine. The Eastern Partnership policy offers such a relations format to all the partners. However, the cooperation should be based on the respect to common values such as democracy, human rights and basic freedoms, and also the transparency of a state’s judiciary. We hope that by November the Ukraine achieves the compliance with the criteria, which have been established by the Council on Foreign Relations back in December. This compliance would ensure that the reform process was irreversible.
– What conditions does the EU put forward for Belarus in order to establish closer relations with this country?
– The development of the bilateral relations between the EU and Belarus depends on the democratization and modernization of the power institutions. The modernization must apply to the systems of human rights observance and justice. It is impossible to normalize the relations with the regime if all the political prisoners are not released and rehabilitated. The EU wants to help Belarus to follow its international commitments in this sphere.
We maintain relations with Belarusian government at the level of ministers and officials as well as with the civil society, mainly in the framework of the European Dialogue on Modernization program.
– When all the EU Member States will be finally ready for a united energy policy, in order to liberate countries like Lithuania from the energy isolation and dependence on Russia?
– The Commission is working intensively on the issue, after the year 2015 there will be no Member State that is an energy island. It is not our intention that our friends in Europe, especially in the Baltic region, were cut off from Europe’s electricity and gas networks.
Therefore, in order to unite the Baltic countries and the EU energy infrastructure, the European Commission implements Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan, initiated by me in 2008. This will promote the deepening of regional integration. The EU talks with Russia on energy resources, in order to obtain assistance in this regard for the Baltic countries.
In addition, we support the initiatives of alternative fuel resources. It is necessary to ensure the energy security of our citizens and societies.
Harmoniously functioning, unified and open European market is the best way to ensure the security of energy supplies.